books

Charlaine Harris

Books

Fantasy:

The Southern Vampire Mysteries: Dead Until Dark (2001), Living Dead in Dallas (2002), Club Dead (2003), Dead to the World (2004), Dead As A Doornail (2005), Definitely Dead (2006), All Together Dead (2007), From Dead to Worse (2008), Dead and Gone (2009)

Anthologies: Powers of Detection (2004), My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding (2006), Many Bloody Returns (2007), Wolfsbane and Mistletoe (2008), Unusual Suspects (2008), Blood Lite (2008), Strange Brew (2009), Must Love Hellhounds (2009), Crimes by Moonlight (2010), Death’s Excellent Vacation (2010), Vampires: The Recent Undead (2011), Down These Strange Streets (2011), Home Improvement: Undead Edition (2011), An Apple for the Creature (2012), Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations (2013)

Mystery:

Shakespeare's Counselor (2001)

 

Fantasy

 

The Southern Vampire Mysteries

 

Dead Until Dark (2001), Living Dead in Dallas (2002), Club Dead (2003), Dead to the World (2004)

If I told you I’d been reading erotic, vampire mysteries, would you still respect me?

If the answer is “No,” too bad. Since the Victorian part of my soul has to deal with it, you can too.

I read the first book because awhile ago I picked up, a vampire anthology. I love anthologies, because I love short stories. And I love finding new authors, so even though a story might not be something I’d normally read, if it’s in an anthology, I’ll most likely read it (Unless it’s obviously something I really don’t want to read). I didn’t read the first story, because from reviews I’ve read, the author doesn’t write to my tastes, and I wanted to read something I’d enjoy. So I skipped to the second story, Charlaine Harris’ “One Word Answer,” which I quite enjoyed.

However, I do not recommend this route, because the short story occurs well into the series, and gives away some plot points of the earlier stories.

So, liking the story as much as I did, I picked up books two and three of her ‘Southern Vampire’ series used, and picked up the first book new.

It wasn’t until I was about a quarter of the way into the first book that I realized that there were romantic bits to the book.

Rather graphic romantic bits.

However at this point I was really into the story, and the naughty bits were well done, so I told my inner prude to shut-up and continued reading.

And I’m glad I did because I really liked these books. They were lots of fun, AND well-written. Possible plot inconsistencies from book to book were mentioned and explained (which I really liked) and each book was complete in and of itself. Although a main thread continues from book to book, each book is a self-contained story.


Which was enough to make me do the good fantasy happy dance even without the good writing and story.

The series starts with Dead Until Dark where we meet Sookie Stackhouse, Southern barmaid and telepath who lives with her Grandmother, and where Sookie meets her first vampire, Bill Compton. (I the idea of vampires finally coming out of the closet, so to speak.) Sookie also has to deal with several murders, which is why the later books are classified as both fantasy and mystery.

I was going to write a bit about the other three books, but it’s nearly impossible to do so without giving away parts of the other books. So, I’ll pass, and if you really want plot points, you can read the back of the book or any number of Amazon reviews.

So why do I like these books so well? First, they’re set in the South in a small town, and Charlaine Harris, in my opinion, gets both those parts right, from knowing everyone else’s business to how everyone dresses. Second, especially in the later books, I absolutely love the fact that money matters to Sookie. She counts her pennies and worries about property taxes. That little bit of realism that strikes me as absolutely prefect, and really makes her real to me. In so many ways she’s noone special, and what is special about her doesn’t save her from the everyday problems we all have to deal with.

And she isn’t perfect. She’s bitchy at times, and has a brother who is far from perfect–and she knows he’s far from perfect–but she loves him anyway. It makes her quite real, despite her unreal companions and situations.

So although I definitely won’t be loaning the books to my grandmother, I heartily recommend them. Especially to people who aren’t quite as embarrassed by reading about sex as I am.
Rating: 9/10

 

 

Dead As A Doornail (2005)

Dead As A Doornail is the fifth book in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series, and full of complications and murder and danger. Someone is killing the double-natured, and since Sookie’s brother Jason was bitten, he’s in the same danger as the rest.

I really liked several different things about this story. I found the mystery interesting--I like the way that she works the supernatural into the mystery. I did guess part of the mystery, although not the entire thing. But that just made the whole thing even better, since it's so satisfying to correctly guess the bad guy in a well-written mystery.

I also like how she continues to focus on how Sookie struggles to make ends meet. Things that are taken for granted in other mysteries are important here--things like hospital bills and health insurance and home owners insurance, and the little day to day issues of recovering from a tragedy. Those little details make the story far more real than stories that don't deal with the supernatural.

One thing that did bug me in this book, however, is that Sookie had way too many suitors. I was somewhat frustrated by the fact that supernatural creatures seemed almost unable to resist her charms. I realize that Charlaine Harris explains it to some degree, but still. (Of course it made the bit with Claude all the more amusing.) And I am very curious as to whom Sookie is going to end up settling down with. Part of me wants it to be Sam, since I really like Sam, but part of me thinks that she needs to end up with a vampire, since she always talks about how relaxed they make her feel, since she can't read their minds. So then I lean towards Eric, whom I also like. Though I suppose as long as it's not Bill or Alcide I'll be happy.

But that isn't a huge thing. And I really do love Charlaine Harris' storytelling. There are a lot of different characters, but they're all different and I don't have trouble keeping them straight. The dialog is sharp and witty, and the mystery is well done. In the face of all that, who am I to complain that Sookie has too many men falling for her?

Okay. One other thing bugged me. I wasn't quite sure why Lily Bard made a brief appearance. I got that Debbie Pelt's family wanted to know what had happened to her, but I found the fact that Lily and Jack were doing the investigating rather disorienting. They didn't seem to exist in the same world, so I was thrown when they showed up. Glad to see they were doing well, but thrown never the less.

If you're already reading about Sookie Stackhouse, then this is a book you don't want to miss. If you've never read a Sookie Stackhouse book, then you really should. However, you may want to start at an earlier book. Although you could read this book without knowing Sookie's back-story, I think it is easier to deal with all the different characters, if you know her past with them.
Rating: 8/10

Definitely Dead (2006)

First things first, this book had me laughing out loud, and reading passages to Michael. That usually only happens for Steven Brust books, but in multiple places Charlaine Harris nailed the dialog, and forced me to keep interrupting Michael game so he could laugh with me.

Additionally, for those of you who don't already know, I dislike hardback books. I find them uncomfortable to read, and they don't fit in my jacket pocket, so I can't take them anywhere. It is a measure of my respect for Charlaine Harris's writing that I bought this book in hardback, and within two weeks of publication. (Although I have to admit that if I hadn't bought the previous hardback on sale for $4.99, I would have been less inclined to get Definitely Dead in hardback.)

If you read the short story "One Word Answer" in the collection Bite, this book picks up the pieces left from that story: Sookie has to go to New Orleans to clear out her cousin Hadley's apartment, and ends up involved in the power play between the Queen of Louisiana and the King of Arkansas.

One thing I particularly liked is that Charlaine Harris resolved some of the issues I had with the last book. She reduced the number of Sookie's suitors, and explained why Sookie had so many supernatural suitors in the first place. I very much appreciated this, because it irked me that Sookie had every supernatural man she met swooning at her feet. I felt like the series was close to crossing the line from one sort of fantasy to another, different sort. Although Charlaine Harris didn't sweep the board clean of Sookie suitors, she did get the number down to something far more reasonable.

SPOILER

(rot 13)

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END SPOILER

The mysteries in this book were good, but seemed to take a back seat to resolving some of Sookie's romantic entanglements. Which was actually okay, because they really needed sorting out, and the two mysteries we got were pretty good.

If you have not read a Sookie Stackhouse book before, there is enough back story here to explain what's going on, however, it would probably be more satisfying to read if you have actually read the previous books. But if you're already reading the Sookie Stackhouse books, a lot happens in this story that you are not going to want to miss. Plus, it's a lot of fun.
Rating: 8/10

All Together Dead (2007)

It’s been awhile since I read a new Sookie Stackhouse story. They’re now published in hardback first, and as much as I enjoy her stories and her writing, I don’t much care for hardback books. I also wasn’t sure they were worth $25.

So I placed it on pre-order for the paperback, and eagerly read it as soon as it arrived.

Sookie agreed to attend the vampire summit as telepath to Louisiana Queen Sophie-Anne, and after multiple delays, the summit is now occurring while Louisiana has shifted from a position of strength to one of weakness following both the death of the Queen of Arkansas and the Katrina flooding. Now there may be a trial over the death of the King of Arkansas, while Sophie Anne remains in all but exile until the rebuilding of her New Orleans home.

Sookie has her own boarder in the form of Amelia the witch, another New Orleans refugee, only for reasons other than the flood. She also has to come to terms her relationship with Quinn, and where that relationship is going.

As with previous books, there is plenty of humor and mystery, as well as boinking. Sookie has her own view on life, but is also finally starting to realize how much her association with the vampires has changed both her and the way others in Bon Temps view her. I did appreciate that bit very much. Her friendships are becoming well-known, and as the Fellowship of the Sun takes hold, it is costing Sookie friendships.

I also liked the Sookie is now starting to deal with shades of gray much more than she has in previous books. She is finally realizing that those with whom she deals have pasts that are dark and bloody, and they also have allegiances that she cannot truly understand.

What I didn’t much care for is her continued whining and moaning over Bill, (good riddance) and her choice yet not a choice between Eric and Quinn. This is my least favorite part of these books, and although I appreciate that we were given a reason why vampires find her irresistible, I still think Charlaine Harris still goes too far in making Sookie all but everyone’s dream girl. That the one thing I particularly dislike about much supernatural fantasy, and although Sookie isn’t out of control, I do find it rather frustrating.

If you have not read any of the Sookie Stackhouse books, then I recommend going back to book one and starting the series there. Although you could in theory pick up any book in the series and start there, so much has happened in previous stories I think it might be a bit confusing to try and pick up in the middle.
Rating: 7/10

From Dead to Worse (2008)

For awhile there I was getting frustrated with Charlaine Harris while it seems as if Sookie was the most attractive and beguiling woman in the entire world and everyone wanted to boink her.

Whatever. I don’t care if she is part fairy, things were just getting a bit ridiculous.

But things seemed to have moved past that point, finally. She still is unsure where she stands in the world and who she loves, but she’s settled into her friendships and is extracting herself from relationships that are not healthy from her. Of course, being a friend of the Pack and close to the vampire sheriff of her area wins her as many enemies as it does admirers.

This books was rather interesting. It was actually several novellas combined into a single book rather than a single novel. Which was fine with me, because Charlaine Harris does novellas and short stories very well–in fact I almost tend to prefer her shorter works to her longer ones. So that was a bonus, however, there was some filler material scattered throughout the book, as Sookies day-to-day activities are described several times. It occasionally made for strange breaks in the story that possibly could have been edited out.

BUT.

Those are really minor flaws compared to my overall feeling about the book. We’re back to mysteries, and although Sookie is still confused about her love life, she’s coming to terms with herself and what’s best for her. (And I have to say that I’m a big Eric fan, since he’s one of the few who has always tended to see to her material needs when others have ignored or been blind to the financial difficulties their demands have placed upon her. [I always appreciated the fact that Eric had her driveway regraded. That sounds like something silly, unless you’ve every lived with a gravel driveway, then you realize that he was interested in making her day-to-day life easier, not just impressing her.)

I’m also glad to see more of her friendship with Sam. He’s a very interesting character, and we’ve never really gotten to see him for much more than Sookie’s boss, so it was a nice change to see him being her friend–and her the same.

So although this story did have some weaknesses, and I’m sure that some people might not like the fact it’s several stories in one, as a whole I enjoyed From Dead to Worse very much, and enjoyed the several mysteries that went throughout the book. And I particularly liked the final chapter. It was good to see Sookie doing something on her own and for someone else–but also for herself.
Rating: 7/10

Dead and Gone (2009)

When I first discovered the Sookie Stackhouse books the were like a revelation: Romance can be fun? Really? And they were fun! Mysteries, vampires and sex that wasn’t completely ridiculous!

Then at some point, they started to get ridiculous. It seemed as if every supernatural creature adored and wanted Sookie, and were all but fighting for her attention.

Bletch.

Then came the explanation of sorts as to why supernatural creatures were attracted to Sookie, so I decided to give it another chance.

Thus we come to Dead and Gone.

I have discovered that I no longer care what happens to Sookie.

This book didn’t enrage me with plot holes or issues, I just realized I do not care in the slightest what happens to Sookie or anyone else in the series.

And so, for me, here the series ends. Wish it had lived up to the promise of the first few books, but the endless (and ridiculous) romantic entanglements just got to be too much, and the mysteries took a back seat to everything else.

So long Sookie.
Rating: 5/10

 

Anthologies

 

Powers of Detection (2004) edited by Dana Stabenow

I like fantasies. I like mysteries. So… “Stories of Mystery and Fantasy” sounds like a good thing. Plus Charlaine Harris has a Sookie Stackhouse short story, and that had to be a good thing.

Well, it was an okay thing.

The Charlaine Harris story was good. In "Fairy Dust," Sookie has to figure out who killed Claudine's sister, Claudia.

...

The other stories were for the most part okay. I didn't like "The Death of Clickclickwhistle" too much, but it was science fiction rather than fantasy, and that was the part I didn't care for, rather than the mystery.
Rating: 5/10

 

My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding (2006) edited by P.N Elrod

My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding is an anthology of short stories featuring supernatural creatures and weddings. All the stories are good, but some are better than others. In some of the stories the wedding is the main feature, while in other stories the wedding felt a bit tacked on to make the story fit into the anthology.

Spellbound - L.A. Banks
Something Borrowed - Jim Butcher
Dead Man's Chest - Rachel Caine
All Shook Up - P.N. Elrod
The Wedding of Wylda Serene - Esther M. Friesner
Charmed by the Moon - Lori Handeland
Tacky - Charlaine Harris
A Hard Day's Night-Searcher - Sherrilyn Kenyon
...Or Forever Hold Your Peace - Susan Krinard

One of the stories I particularly liked was P.N. Elrod's "All Shook Up." While catering a wedding, Frankie meets an Elvis impersonator who seems too good to be true--in more ways than one. I particularly liked how Frankie reacts to "Elvis" and tries to keep hormones from getting in the way of her good sense.

Esther M. Friesner's story, "The Wedding of Wylda Serene" was also an interesting one--and I very much enjoyed the story and the crazy twists and turns it took, however, I misread an important detail at the beginning of the story, and was confused as to the gender of the storyteller. For some reason I was convinced the storyteller was a female--which lead to my consternation later on in the story.

L.A. Banks' story "Spellbound" drew me in immediately. The idea of the Hatfield-McCoy being exacerbated by magic users in each family amused me, and I very much liked the writing. Michael picked up an L.A. Banks series a year or so ago. Perhaps I should pick up the first book in that series.

The story that was my favorite was Susan Krinard's "...Or Forever Hold Your Peace." I'm very fond of stories set in a Victorian setting--even an alternative Victorian England. Sticking magic into the middle of that is just a bonus. I also liked Kit and Olivia. I searched but I didn't see any books written by Susan Krinard that have those characters. But if she writes one, I'll definitely buy it.

All the stories have a romantic plot; some have boinking, but not all. (I, of course, prefer the stories without the boinking.) There were some stories that I preferred over others, but all the stories in the collection were strong and well worth reading, while several of the stories were well-written enough to make me glad I bought the collection.
Rating: 7/10

Many Bloody Returns (2007) edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner

I pre-ordered this, not realizing it was in hardback. As much as I love anthologies, I’m not that excited about hardback books–especially anthologies where I don’t know all the authors or the quality of the stories.

Many Bloody Returns pretty much tells you the focus of the stories: vampires and birthdays. In some cases it’s the vampire who is having a birthday, in other cases…not.

Luckily, I wasn’t too disappointed with my purchase. There were several stories by authors I like and charaters whose books I’m reading, namely, Charlaine Harris, PN Elrod, Jim Butcher, and Tanya Huff. Unsurprisingly, some those were also some of the stories I enjoyed most, as they built upon characters with which I am already familiar.

Dracula Night - Charlaine Harris
The Mournful Cry of Owls - Christopher Golden
I Was a Teenage Vampire - Bill Crider
Twilight - Kelley Armstrong
It's My Birthday, Too - Jim Butcher
Grave-Robbed - P.N. Elrod
The First Day of the Rest of Your Life - Rachel Caine
The Witch and the Wicked - Jeanne C. Stein
Blood Wrapped - Tanya Huff
The Wish - Carolyn Haines
Fire and Ice and Linguini for Two - Tate Hallaway
Vampire Hours - Elaine Viets
How Stella got her Grave Back - Toni L.P. Kelner

Of those, my two favorite stories were Jim Butcher’s “It’s My Birthday Too” and P.N. Elrod’s “Grave-Robbed”.

Jim Butcher wrote a very solid Harry Dresden story. Although there isn’t a lot of development of Harry’s character, what I did like was how this story added another dimension of Harry’s relationships with Molly (his apprentice) and Thomas (his half-brother). The continued building of those relationships was really the strong point of this story for me. One of the things that has annoyed me about Harry is his inability to turn to his friends for help, so I really liked seeing him working with others.

I also really enjoyed the P.N. Elrod story. Although I’ve found the Jack Flemming stories to have their ups and downs, I enjoy reading about Jack, and enjoy the time period in which his stories are written. Strangely, this was hardly a period piece in comparison to the other Jack Flemming stories. Instead, the focus is on the mystery/problem, and how Jack solves that mystery. And I quite liked Jack’s solution to the problem at hand.

Another story I particularly liked as Jeanne C. Stein’ story “The Witch and the Wicked”. Although I did guess part of where the story was going, I enjoyed Sophie’s musings and thoughts about her future, and her interactions with the vampires. But I mostly liked how the story went in a direction I was not at all expecting.

And I thought Elaine Viets’ story, “Vampire Hours” was wonderful. Although being in a vampire collection, it was pretty obvious who/what the people Katherine was watching were, it didn’t particularly distract from the story, since the focus was upon Katherine and her chase for eternal youth. The story felt a bit like First Wives Club crossed with a vampire tale. Fun and amusing, although I am not sure how I felt about the fact that Katherine was so focused upon her body and her beauty as her main assets.

But I have to admit that there were stories that I found disappointing. As much as I enjoy Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, this story didn’t seem to add much, and in some ways Sookie felt to me as if she was acting slightly out of character. nothing I could put my finger on, but the story just felt a bit off to me.

I also didn’t care too much for Rachel Caine’s story “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” because I felt like I was missing something–I was never quite certain what was happening or why, and why Eve really had no clue as to what she was going to do. Instead of interesting, I found her somewhat annoying. Which was somewhat surprising to me, since I enjoyed Rachel Caine’s first Weather Warden book.

Otherwise, this was a pretty good collection of stories. I probably would have preferred the book in paperback, but over all I enjoyed it.
Rating:7/10

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe (2008) edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner

Gift Wrap - Charlaine Harris
Haire of the Beast - Donna Andrews
Lucy, at Christmastime - Simon R. Green
Night Things Changed - Dana Cameron
Werewolf before Christmas - Kat Richardson
Fresh Meat - Alan Gordon
Il Est Ne - Carrie Vaughn
Perfect Gift - Dana Stabenow
Christmas Past - Keri Arthur
SA - J.A. Konrath
Star of David - Patricia Briggs
You'd Better Not Pyout - Nancy Pickard
Rogue Elements - Karen Chance
Milk and Cookies - Rob Thurman
Keeping Watch over his Flock - Toni L. P. Kelner

 

 

Unusual Suspects (2008) edited by Dana Stabenow

I own and read Dana Stabenow’s first fantasy/mystery anthology, Powers of Detection and found it a mixed bag. But when I saw Unusual Suspects and saw it had stories from Sharon Shinn & Simon R. Green, I knew I would have to have this anthology.

In general, I enjoyed it more than the first anthology. Unlike the first anthology, the Sookie story was not on of my favorites. I fear I’m becoming annoyed by Sookie. Hopefully the next book I get will repair my goodwill towards her. And I didn’t dislike the story, I simply didn’t care one way or the other about it. The primary mystery itself was actually interesting, but I suppose I felt like the story wandered all over the place; perhaps I like my short stories to be a little tighter. But again, it wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t as good as other short stories I’ve read by Charlaine Harris.

...

If you’re a fan of fantasy mysteries, this anthology is a good introduction to some authors I particularly like, and although it had some weak spots, was better than its predecessor.
Rating: 7/10

Blood Lite (2008) edited by Kevin J. Anderson

This anthology came out in hardback last year, but considering the theme, I was more than content to wait until it came out in paperback. Which it recently did.

As with most anthologies, there are good stories and bad stories, but there weren’t too many stories that I hated, though there also weren’t too many stories that I adored. So I’d say it all came out in the wash.

...

I also quite liked Charlaine Harris‘ story, “An Evening with Al Gore.” Her non-Sookie stories are hit and miss with me, but this one was definitely a hit. It’s a look at what happens when a wealthy couple and their friends watch “An Inconvenient Truth” and decide to do something about it.

...

There were some stories that I didn’t like at all, I thought “Mr. Bear” was particularly awful, and I didn’t like “A Good Psycho Is Hard to Find” either. But over all, the stories were pretty good, and the series was worth reading. I would have been annoyed if I’d bought this in hardback, but it’s not a bad buy as a paperback.
Rating: 6/10

Strange Brew (2009) edited by P.N. Elrod

Strange-BrewI love short story collections. They’re a way to discover new authors, visit with favorite characters, and to be honest I just enjoy short stories. Now if you like short stories, you eventually learn that a lot of collections are not worth buying, but there are certain authors that will cause me to buy an anthology on sight. This collection has several of those authors: Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, and Charlaine Harris.

As with most collections, there are some good stories, and some stories I didn’t like quite as well. For some reason, the stories I like the best seem to end up in the front of the book–which is unusual, because with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress anthologies, that tended to end on very strong stories. This collection, not so much, which is always a little disappointing.

...

Charlaine Harris‘ story “Bacon” was somewhat vicious for her (though not so much for other authors in the horror genre). It was actually rather amusing–in a slightly different way than her normal stories. In fact, I kept forgetting that I was reading a Charlaine Harris story–but in a good way. It also wasn’t about Sookie, which was a nice change of pace.

...

What I thought was interesting was several of the stories reached back into mythology for parts of their stories, which I really enjoyed (although I didn’t need all the explanation that was given). If you think you might be interested in reading supernatural fantasy, this anthology would be a good place to sample some stories.
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: July 2014

This is a re-read, and as such, I skipped the stories I didn’t like or wasn’t in the mood for.

...

Bacon by Charlaine Harris is another story I skimmed, although Charlaine generally writes short stories I like, I got so sick of the Sookie Stackhouse series that I have a hard time reading anything set in her world. This story involves Dahlia, whose stories I generally liked, but this one felt cliched.

...

I love anthologies, but I wish that more collections were edited for quality short stories, rather than to get as many names on the cover–regardless of whether those authors are good at writing short stories and novellas.
Rating: 7/10

Published by St. Martin’s Griffin

Must Love Hellhounds (2009)

I picked up this anthology solely because I saw Ilona Andrews had a story in it. Charlaine Harris also usually writes decent short stories, but not always. But I figured, I like everything I’ve read by Ilona Andrews, and there should be at least one other decent story in there, so it’s worth it.

The book opens with Charlaine Harris story, “The Britlingens Go to Hell.” First off, this is not a Sookie story, which I liked, because I think authors need to branch out if they’ve been writing a lot of a single characters. Unfortunately, the story felt a bit uneven to me. The world building was not as good as I expect for a story set in a work that is very much not our own. There were plenty of nice touches, but overall it felt like it needed a bit more polishing before being released into the wild.

Two mercenaries are hired to act as bodyguard for a man who needs to go to Hell. I particularly liked the mercenaries/bodyguards. They were rough and strong and no nonsense. And Hell had the potential to be an interesting place–once I made sense of it. I also liked the surprise characters who appeared halfway through the story. I thought that was a nice touch.

...

Rating: 7/10

Between the Dark and the Daylight: And 27 More of the Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year (2009) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Daniel M. Hoyt

I generally love mystery anthologies, but I had a hard time with this one.

First and foremost, the collection is full of unreliable narrators. I have absolutely nothing against unreliable narrators, and usually enjoy them, however, when you read story after story where the narrator is actually the killer, it quickly becomes unsurprising, and I wasn’t interested in reading all the various justifications the murderers and criminals gave for their actions.

Father's Day - Michael Connelly
Walking the Dog - Peter Robinson
Lucky - Charlaine Harris
A Sleep Not Unlike Death - Sean Chercover
The First Husband - Joyce Carol Oates
Between the Dark and the Daylight - Tom Picirilli
Cheer - Megan Abbot
Babs - Scott Phillips
Ms. Grimshanks Regrets - Nancy Pickard
Skinhead Central - T. Jefferson Parker
The Bookbinder's Apprentice - Martin Edwards
I/M Print - Jeremiah Healy
The Devil's Acre - Steve Hockensmith
The Instrument of their Desire - Patricia Abbot
Crossroads - Bill Crider
The Kim Vovack Effect - Gary Phillips
The Opposite of O - Martin Limon
Patriotic Gestures - Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The Quick Brown Fox - Robert S. Levinson
What Happened to Mary? - Bill Pronzini
Jonas and the Frail - Charles Ardai
The Pig Party - Doug Allyn
Perfect Gentleman - Brett Battles
Road Dogs - Norman Partridge
Rust - N.J. Ayres
Skin and Bones - David Edgerly Gates
La Vie En Rose - Dominique Mainard
Sack O' Woe - John Harvey

That said, there were some stories I enjoyed, but overall, I just wanted to finish the anthology so I could move onto something else.
Rating: 6/10

Published by Tyrus Books

Crimes by Moonlight (2010) edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner

I started this anthology more than a year ago, got bored with it and put it down, then finally decided I was just going to FINISH it. Needless to say, my memories of the stories at the start is rather faint.

Dahlia Underground - Charlaine Harris
Hixton - William Kent Krueger
Small Change - Margaret Maron
The Trespassers - Brendan Dubois
Madeeda - Harley Jane Kozak
House Of Horrors - S. W. Hubbard
Sift, Almost Invisible, Through - Jeffrey Somers
The Bedroom Door - Elaine Viets
The Conqueror Worm - Barbara D'Amato
In Memory Of The Sibylline - Lou Kemp
The Bloodflower - Martin Meyers
The Awareness - Terrie Farley Moran
Tadesville - Jack Fredrickson
Limbo - Steve Brewer
The Insider - Mike Wiecek
Swing Shift - Dana Cameron
Riding High - Carolyn Hart
Grave Matter - Max Allan Collins & Mickey Spillane
Death Of A Vampire - Parnell Hall
Taking The Long View - Toni L. P. Kelner

Basically, this is an okay selection of stories, most of just weren’t my thing.

Death’s Excellent Vacation (2010) edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner

deaths-excellent-vacationYeah, I’m a sucker for anthologies. Especially ones where I know the majority of the stories will be good.

Mind you, I wasn’t impressed enough with the list of authors to pay full price (this still isn’t out in paperback yet?!) but there were plenty of used copies floating around, which is how I got my fix.

Blondes by Charlaine Harris
The Boys Go Fishing by Sarah Smith
One for the Money by Jeaniene Frost
Meanwhile, Far across the Caspian Sea… by Daniel Stashower
The Innsmouth Nook by A. Lee Martinez
Safe and Sound by Jeff Abbott
Seeing Is Believing by L.A. Banks
The Perils of Effrijim by Katie MacAlister
Thin Walls by Christopher Golden
The Heart Is Always Right by Lilith Saintcrow
The Demon in the Dunes by Chris Grabenstein
Home from America by Sharan Newman
Pirate Dave’s Haunted Amusement Park by Toni L. P. Kelner

The opening story is Blondes by Charlaine Harris. Yeah, sorry True Blood fans, but I am over Sookie. And Sookie and Pam playing at being strippers? I believe my eyes rolled so hard the clinked.

The Boys Go Fishing by Sarah Smith is the story of an immortal superhero whose life lies heavy upon him. A red-headed girl (to his eyes she’s a girl, anyway) asks him to take a group ice-fishing (the job he’s hidden behind for the last several years). I really liked this story–I was never quite sure where it was taking me, but I quite liked where it ended up.

One for the Money by Jeaniene Frost is a Kat and Bones story. This actually fills in a couple blanks I’d missed (nothing major). Kat and Bones were on vacation until her Uncle Don calls in a favor–go protect the young college aged (orphaned) daughter of a man he’d worked with before. Sadly, nothing is easy. I quite liked this little peek into their lives, and a tiny bit of resolution between Bones and Justine. I’m not sure if this story would work as well if you weren’t already familiar with the characters and story-line though.

Meanwhile, Far across the Caspian Sea… by Daniel Stashower was a rather unusual story, of a man starting his job at LifeSpan books and his somewhat strange and problematic co-worker. I really liked that I had no idea where this story was going, and strange as the ending was, I liked it just as well.

The Innsmouth Nook was, as I expected from A. Lee Martinez, quite funny.

“So two single guys from the big city move to our little town and open a bed-and-breakfast. But you’re not gay.”

“We’re just friends,” he said.

“Right. Because straight men open bed-and-breakfasts all the time.”

That–and several other bits–cracked me up. It’s also, now I look at it, as good a summation of the story as any.

Safe and Sound by Jeff Abbott was a good story, but not one that I particularly enjoyed. Nora Dare works for a 24-hour news station, and she’s spent the past several months keeping up the search for a missing college student. It’s definitely a stand-alone story, but I couldn’t stand the main character.

I’ve books by L. A. Banks sitting waiting to be read, but for some reason never got around to raeding them. Seeing Is Believing makes me wonder why the hell I haven’t read them. Jessica is trying to hold things together after the death of her mother, and her brother moving away, but between the lack of jobs in town, and her inheritance of her mother’s gifts, things are very hard for her. The fact that something is preying on the people in her town only makes things worse.

I really really liked this story and should probably go find those L.A. Banks books I never got around to reading.

I generally don’t like Katie MacAlister’s stories, and The Perils of Effrijim was no exception. Just not my thing.

Thin Walls by Christopher Golden was another disturbing story. Well done, but…disturbing.

I’m sometimes hit or miss with Lilith Saintcrow, but I very much enjoyed The Heart Is Always Right. A gargoyle is getting ready to go on vacation when events intercede and he has to do the one thing he has been raised to do.

The Demon in the Dunes by Chris Grabenstein was interesting, but…

Home from America by Sharan Newman is the story of a young Irish-American who longs to go back to the old country. When he finally gets his wish, things are not as all as he expected. I liked this story as well, despite where it went.

Pirate Dave’s Haunted Amusement Park by Toni L. P. Kelner was amusing. A young woman who was turned by a rogue werewolf heads to the place where she spent her childhood vacations to and sort things out before she is to make the decision about which pack to join. Kinda goofy, and also fun. And I very much liked her werewolf traits.

So, a pretty good collection. As always there were stories I didn’t like, but most of them were simple a conflict of taste rather than bad stories. But really, it’s been two and a half years. How is this not out in paperback already?
Rating: 7/10

Published by Ace  

Vampires: The Recent Undead (2011) edited by Paula Guran

Vampires-The-Recent-Undead“The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” by Holly Black
“This Is Now” by Michael Marshall Smith
“Sisters” by Charles de Lint
“The Screaming” by J.A. Konrath
“Zen and the Art of Vampirism” by Kelley Armstrong
“La Vampiresse” by Tanith Lee
“Dead Man Stalking” by Rachel Caine
“The Ghost of Leadville” by Jeanne C. Stein
“Waste Land” by Stephen Dedman
“Gentleman of the Old School” by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
“No Matter Where You Go” by Tanya Huff
“Outfangthief” by Conrad Williams
“Dancing with the Star” by Susan Sizemore
“A Trick of the Dark” by Tina Rath
“When Gretchen was Human” by Mary Turzillo
“Conquistador de la Noche” by Carrie Vaughn
“Endless Night” by Barbara Roden
“Dahlia Underground” by Charlaine Harris
“The Belated Burial” by Caitlin R. Kiernan
“Twilight States” by Albert Cowdrey
“To the Moment” by Nisi Shawl
“Castle in the Desert: Anno Dracula 1977? by Kim Newman
“Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell
“Vampires Anonymous” by Nancy Kilpatrick
“The Wide, Carnivorous Sky” by John Langan

It has taken me an almost embarrassingly long time to finish this. How long you ask? I purchased it a couple months after it was published–that long ago.

The problem is I hit a point where I wasn’t interested in a story, and instead of just skipping to the next story, I put the whole thing down. I know, rookie mistake. (But you’ll see I made it several times, so I decided to just finish off these anthologies, and if I didn’t like a story? SKIP.)

...

“Dahlia Underground” by Charlaine Harris

I’d read this previously, and found Dahlia an interesting character, especially as I was getting tired of Sookie.

...

So, it was an uneven anthology for me, but there were some very good stories that are well-worth the price of the anthology.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Prime Books

Down These Strange Streets (2011) edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin

If you look at the list of authors above, you’ll immediately see why I read this series. There are some of my favorite authors here–many of whom write short stories I tend to love. And surprisingly, I loved most of these stories, especially a few by authors I haven’t particularly read before.

Death by Dahlia - Charlaine Harris
The Bleeding Shadow - Joe R. Lansdale
Hungry Heart - Simon R. Green
Styx and Stones - Steven Saylor
Pain and Suffering - S.M. Stirling
It’s Still the Same Old Story - Carrie Vaughn
The Lady Is a Screamer - Conn Iggulden
Hellbender- Laurie R. King
Shadow Thieves - Glen Cook
No Mystery, No Miracle - Melinda Snodgrass
The Difference Between a Puzzle and a Mystery - M.L.N. Hanover
The Curious Affair of the Deodand - Lisa Tuttle
Lord John and the Plague of Zombies - Diana Gabaldon
Beware the Snake - John Maddox Roberts
In Red, With Pearls - Patricia Briggs
The Adakian Eagle - Bradley Denton

The first story, Charlaine Harris’ “Death by Dahlia” is set in the Sookie Stackhouse world, but features a character who has appeared in previous short stories, Dahlia. I rather enjoy the Dahlia stories, as she’s a very different character from Sookie, and has been a vampire for so long she has only a tenuous grasp on humanity. This wasn’t one of Charlaine Harris’ best short stories, but I did enjoy it.

...

All in all, I found this to be a fabulous anthology, and I highly recommend almost all the stories I read–even the ones I didn’t love were, for the most part, interesting.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Penguin

Home Improvement: Undead Edition (2011) edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner

As with most anthologies, there are stories here I really liked, and some that I found to be just okay. What was unusual was that there were some stories that I actually strongly disliked.

If I Had a Hammer - Charlaine Harris
Wizard Home Security - Victor Gischler
Gray - Patricia Briggs
Squatters’ Rights - Rochelle Krich
Blood on the Wall - Heather Graham
The Mansion of Imperatives - James Grady
The Strength Inside - Melissa Marr
Woolsley’s Kitchen Nightmare - E. E. Knight
Through This House - Seanan McGuire
The Path - S. J. Rozan
Rick the Brave - Stacia Kane
Full-Scale Demolition - Suzanne McLeod
It’s All in the Rendering - Simon R. Green
In Brightest Day - Toni L.P. Kelner

“Gray” by Patricia Briggs isn’t a Mercy Thompson story, but is set her her world. A vampire returns to Chicago, to the home where she once lived. I quite liked this story. It stands on its own outside of the Mercy books, and is interesting in its own right. Vampires tend to be minor characters in the Mercy series, but I quite like her vampire mythology, and have very much enjoyed the short stories she’s written that have been about vampires. This is one of my favorites.

“It’s All in the Rendering” by Simon Green isn’t set in Nightside, or any of his existing worlds, that I can tell. It’s just about a house between the worlds, the couple who manage it, and the horrors of… bureaucracy.

I have to admit that I grew tired of Sookie Stackhouse a couple years ago, but I enjoyed the story “If I Had a Hammer” more than any of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie stories I’ve read in years. There’s no sex, just Sookie and her friends trying to solve a problem.

The story “Through This House” by Seanan McGuire may need a familiarity with Toby Daye’s world to be fully appreciated, but as I’ve read the series as published so far, that wasn’t a problem for me. This is how Toby comes to terms with/takes ownership (sort of) of her knowe. I was reminded why I like Toby so much.

“The Path” by S J Rozan was a somewhat unusual story for the collection, in that it wasn’t particularly about renovation, or even a home, but instead a ghost learning to be brave, and hoping to get an artifact returned to where it belongs. I quite enjoyed the story, and will probably look to see if I can find anything else by the author.

I wasn’t initially sure about Heather Graham’s story “Blood on the Wall” but kept reading and found myself really enjoying it. A private detective keeps finding his family tomb covered in blood. He knows who the culprit is–a young nobody who made a name for himself as an occult “leader” but hasn’t been able to do anything about it. Not quite home improvement, but good nevertheless.

I quite liked “In Brightest Day” by Toni Kelner, which was about voodoo and revenants and being yourself, with a bit of a murder mystery thrown in for fun.

The story “Wizard Home Security” by Victor Gischler wasn’t bad, but it just didn’t do anything for me.

Two stories, “Rick the Brave” by Stacia Kane and “Full-Scale Demolition” by Suzanne McLeod, were parts of series and involved already known characters, and I might have enjoyed them more if I was already familiar with the worlds, but as it was, I felt like I was missing something.

Two stories, “Woolsey’s Kitchen Nightmare” by EE Knight and “The Strength Inside” by Melissa Marr weren’t bad, but just didn’t grab me.

The other two stories, “Squatter’s Rights” by Rocelle Krich and “Mansion of Imperatives” by James Grady I actively disliked–their tone was…off… compared to the other stories in this series. I think both might have been better off in a straight-up horror anthology, which I wouldn’t have bought, because I don’t like horror, but they might be better appreciated.

All in all, an okay collection, but I’m not sure why it’s been so expensive for so long, and if I could have gotten the Patricia Briggs story solo (I really do enjoy her short stories), I’m not sure I’d necessarily haven bothered with it.
Rating: 6/10

Published by Ace

An Apple for the Creature (2012) edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner

First, I hate this title. It grates on my nerves like nails down a chalkboard.

Luckily, the title is not reflective of most of the stories inside.

Playing Possum - Charlaine Harris
Spellcaster 2.0 - Jonathan Maberry
Academy Field Trip - Donald Harstad
Sympathy for the Bones - Marjorie M. Liu
Low School - Rhys Bowen
Callie Meet Happy - Amber Benson
Iphigenia in Aulis - Mike Carey
Golden Delicious - Faith Hunter
Magic Tests - Ilona Andrews
An Introduction to Jewish Myth and Mysticism - Steve Hockensmith
VSI - Nancy Holder
The Bad Hour - Thomas E. Sniegoski
Pirate Dave and the Captain's Ghost - Toni L.P. Kelner

The anthology opens with a Sookie Stackhouse story, which… I’m sorry, but I got annoyed with Sookie several books back, so I have a hard time reading Sookie stories with an open mind. So, I found this story okay. Sookie is taking cupcakes to her nephew Hunter’s kindergarten class, when bad things happen.

The story “Spellcaster 2.0″ by Jonathan Maberry was an unusual story that I quite enjoyed. Several times I thought I knew what was happening and where things were going, and although I saw the Big Event (kinda obvious, given the series) I kept being surprised by the turns of events. A project entering every magical spell that can be found into a database appears to be having glitches.

Donald Harstead’s story “Academy Field Trip” was an interesting one. Law enforcement professionals are at a special training course; the three instructors pull one student aside to get her input on a “special case.” I can’t say I loved the story, but it was interesting.

“Sympathy for the Bones” by Marjorie M. Liu was very good. A young girl was taken in and raised by the local wise woman who uses her powers for her own gain and as she sees fit. Nice, complex tale.

“Low School,” by Rhys Bowen was okay, but I saw where it was going right away. I did appreciate how your opinion of the main character changed as the story went in. People are complex and do things for complex reasons, and I think this was a fabulous example of creating a very complex character. But for the most part the story left me cold.

Amber Benson’s “Callie Meet Happy” was set in her Calliope Reaper-Jones series, and just as I’ve had a hard time getting into the series (I’m only a couple chapters into the first book) so I had a hard time getting into this story. Callie, who inherited her father’s position of grim reaper, needs to learn the necessary skills for the position, and so is sent to a remediation course. I think the problem is that I don’t find Callie at all sympathetic.

“Iphigenia in Aulis” by Mike Carey is an amazing story. We learn bits and pieces as the story progresses, and the more we learn, the more horrified we are. This is a stand alone story not set in any of his existing worlds (that I know of).

Faith Hunter’s “Golden Delicious” is set after the last Jane Yellowrock story. Rick is trying to rebuild his life after being infected with the were-virus, and so attempting to recover whatever law enforcement career he can. I like Rick, so I enjoyed this peek into seeing him recover his life.

Ilona Andrews’ story “Golden Delicious” is set in the world of Kate Daniels, but Kate barely makes an appearance. Kate’s ward, Julie (at Kate’s insistence) needs to remain in school. As part of her introduction to the latest school, she is asked to see if she can discover why a student disappeared. As usual, Ilona Andrews’ stories do not disappoint me.

“An Introduction to Jewish Myth and Mysticism” by Steve Hockensmith was a very interesting story that I very much liked. A professor is traumatized when her abusive ex returns to town, so a friend decides to see what he can do to convince her ex to leave. I quite enjoyed this story.

Nancy Holder’s story “VSI” focused on a special training class where agents are shown evidence of the existence of vampires and trained to analyze crime scenes in which vampires may have been involved. I liked this one as well.

The last two stories weren’t my cup of tea. I’ve read several books in the Remy Chandler series, and found them… okay. I don’t dislike them, and I didn’t dislike this story. I just didn’t do anything for me.

All in all, it was a decent selection of short stories that made up for terrible title.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Ace

Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations (2013) edited by Paula Garan

weird-detectives-recent-investigationsThis is a collection of short stories previously published elsewhere, so I’d already read several of these stories. But there were several I had not, and several of the ones I’d read before were well worth reading again.

This book has been sitting around for awhile, waiting to be read, primarily because I got it in trade paperback, and it’s huge and heavy–just the kind of book I hate reading. Too heavy and too bulky for comfortable reading. But the stories drew me in and didn’t let me go. (Though the book itself was why I lacked patience for stories I’d recently read or didn’t catch my interest immediately.)

“The Key” by Ilsa J. Blick
“The Nightside, Needless to Say” by Simon R. Green
“The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Denton
“Love Hurts” by Jim Butcher
“The Case of Death and Honey” by Neil Gaiman
“Cryptic Coloration” by Elizabeth Bear
“The Necromancer’s Apprentice” by Lillian Stewart Carl
“The Case of the Stalking Shadow” by Joe R. Lansdale
“Hecate’s Golden Eye” by P.N. Elrod
“Defining Shadows” by Carrie Vaughn
“Mortal Bait” by Richard Bowes
“Star of David” by Patricia Briggs
“Imposters” by Sarah Monette
“Deal Breaker” by Justin Gustainis
“Swing Shift” by Dana Cameron
“The Beast of Glamis” by William Meikle
“Signatures of the Dead” by Faith Hunter
“Like a Part of the Family” by Jonathan Maberry
“Fox Tails” by Richard Parks
“Death by Dahlia” by Charlaine Harris
“Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell” by Simon Clark
“See Me” by Tanya Huff
“The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Initially, I was just going to flip through and read stories by authors I love, but then I ended up just reading straight through. Having no patience, if I story didn’t immediately grab hold, I didn’t finish it, and if I hadn’t thoroughly enjoyed it the first time (or had read the story very recently), I didn’t give it a second read.

...

As I said, this contained a lot of stories I’d read previously, but they are for the most part good stories, so if you don’t have the original anthologies, this would be well worth getting.
Rating: 8/10

 

Mystery

 

Shakespeare's Counselor (2001)

Shakespeare's CounselorMy complaint about this book is that it was too engrossing. I laid down just to read a couple of chapters, and two hours later I found myself two-thirds of the way into the book, and not going to sleep early as I'd planned. Here I felt bad and wanted to get some extra rest, and I ended up going to be later than usual. And it's entirely Charlaine Harris' fault, since if she wasn't such a good write, I would have been able to put down the book and go to sleep.

Okay, I don't really mean that. I just wish I would have realized how good the story was going to be, and not started reading it on a week night.

I first came across Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse stories, which can be best classified as erotic vampire mysteries. I enjoyed those mysteries so much that I wanted to read a different series, to see if I liked it as much.

I found Shakespeare's Counselor used a snatched it up. I'm glad I did, because like the Sookie Stackhouse stories, this book is good and I quite enjoyed it. Although there are four books that come before this one, I didn't feel as if I was missing anything by not having read the previous four, which is quite important in a mystery series.

Charlaine Harris is very good at writing interesting, admirable, characters. I love the fact that Lily Bard worries about paying bills and pinches pennies and buys her clothes at Wal Mart and makes her living as a cleaning lady. It makes her seem far more real than some other female detectives I've read.

Be aware, one of the themes in this book is rape--the counselor of the title runs a rape recovery group therapy session, so I would not recommend it for a younger reader. But the subject is covered very honestly, and I don't think that it should scare off anyone else.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I fear, however, that I may have to take up her Aurora Teagarden series, as Shakespeare's Counselor seems to be the last Lily Bard mystery published, and that was back in 2001, and according to her website, she isn't planning on any more Lily Bard mysteries. But I find it hard to complain, if it means she's writing more about Sookie Stackhouse.
Rating: 8/10

 

 

Charlaine Harris's website